The Things I Never Knew About You*

If you’ve ever found out something unexpected – something you never knew – about your parents or perhaps another relative, then you know how curious we can be about family members. In a way, finding out about a relative’s history gives us a piece of ourselves. And sometimes, those things we learn cast someone in a whole new light. In crime fiction, they can be an interesting part of a plot, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Carla Lemarchant hires Hercule Poirot to find out the truth about her father’s murder. Sixteen years earlier, famous painter Amyas Crale (Carla’s father) was poisoned one afternoon. All the evidence pointed to his wife, Caroline, and she was duly arrested, tried, and convicted. Carla, though, is convinced that she was innocent. Poirot gets written accounts of the murder and the days leading up to it from the five people who were present at the time. From those accounts, and interviews with those people, he finds out who the killer really was. Those interviews and accounts also give Carla a chance to get to know her parents in ways that she hadn’t before. And she is glad of the chance to meet the people who were central in her parents’ lives.

Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle introduces readers to Dane McKell. He lives with his parents, Ashton and Lutetia, in a posh New York apartment. The family’s always been terribly respectable – until one day Dale gets curious about his father’s activities. He follows his father and learns to his horror that Ashton McKell is in a relationship with another woman. This discovery completely alters Dane’s view of his father, and he becomes determined to find out more about the woman. She is famous clothing designer Sheila Grey, both intelligent and attractive, and Dane finds himself being drawn to her. One night, Sheila is murdered. Inspector Richard Queen takes the case, and of course, his son Ellery accompanies him. As they investigate, the learn that all three of the McKells have a motive for murder, and that any of them could be responsible.

In Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Accident on the A-35, local chief of police Georges Gorki gets a new case. An attorney named Bertrand Barthelme has driven his car off the A-35 into a tree. Is it a case of accident? Was it suicide? It’s hard to tell just from the initial information, so Gorki decides to interview Barthalme’s widow, Lucette, and son, Raymond. Lucette claims that her husband shouldn’t have been on that road at all. He was supposed to be somewhere else at the time. She wants to know what really happened, so Gorki agrees to at least ask some questions. When Raymond learns of his father’s death, he decides he wants to learn more about him. The two were not close, and Raymond knows that he doesn’t really know the person his father was. So, in one major plot thread, he follows his father’s trail to find out what he was really like. And he makes some surprising findings.

Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford is a television presenter whom we meet in Hannah Dennison’ Murder at Honeychurch Hall. She decides to step away from the ‘goldfish bowl’ life, and go into the antiques business with her mother, Iris. Then, she gets shocking news: Iris has abruptly left London and moved to the small Devon town of Little Dipperton. Kat has no idea why her mother would do such a thing on a whim, so she quickly goes to Little Dipperton herself. There, she discovers that her mother has suffered a hand injury, so she decides to stay for a short time and help out until Iris has recovered. She ends up getting drawn into a murder case when the housekeeper at the local estate, Honeychurch Hall, is murdered. Adding to the mystery is the disappearance of the Honeychurch family’s nanny, Gayla. In the process of finding out what happened to Gayla and the housekeeper, Kat learns some surprising things about her mother, and comes to see her in a whole new light. This is the first novel in this series, and it’s interesting to see how Kat’s relationship with her mother develops over time.

And then there’s R.J. Harlick’s Death’s Golden Whisper. Meg Harris has recently left an abusive relationship, and is now living at Three Deer Point, in Outaouais, Western Québec. She inherited that property from her Great-Aunt Agatha, who lived there for many years, and developed a good relationship with the Migiskan people who live nearby.  So, when a company called CanacCold wants to mine nearby Whisper Island, Miskigan Band Chief Eric Odjik asks Meg’s help. He believes that Whisper Island may be part of the property willed to Meg. If that’s the case, she can deny the company the right to mine. Meg is only too happy to oblige, since she doesn’t want the company to have mining rights. So, she starts looking through Aunt Agatha’s things to see if she can find proof that the property is now hers. Then, there’s a disappearance. And a murder. Before long, Meg is drawn into a complex, dangerous case. As she finds out the truth, Meg also finds out a great deal about her great-aunt. And what she learns gives her a lot of insight into the area, Aunt Agatha, and the history of Three Deer Point.

It can be really tempting to want to find out things about parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Sometimes, we find out things we never imagined. Has that happened to you?

 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from Matt Brouwer’s Unfamiliar.


12 thoughts on “The Things I Never Knew About You*

  1. I found out that my mum and dad weren’t married when I was about twelve. Mum had even changed her name but they had never actually married. It shouldn’t have really changed how I saw them, but it felt really shocking at the time. I felt like I’d never see them the same again – even though they did eventually get married.

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    1. Oh, that really must have been a shock, Rachel! I can see why you were convinced you wouldn’t see them the same way again. I think something like that really does change one’s entire perception of a person (or people).

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  2. Family secrets are such a good basis for mystery novels! I researched our family tree some years ago and quickly found that some secrets are better left in the past. My mother was horrified to learn that her grandfather had been illegitimate – still a big thing for her generation though it hadn’t even crossed my mind she’d be bothered about it. Sadly I failed to find a rich relative whose fortune, mansion and title should have rightfully been mine… 😉

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    1. Ah, FictionFan, what a shame! Well, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open. There must be someone in your way-back who’s left you millions, a large estate, and all the luxury to which you and your feline overseer should become accustomed! 😉 I do think your mother’s reaction about her grandfather is a really interesting sign of her generation. I don’t think a lot of people are as concerned about that as used to be the case. You’ve got a good point though about secrets better left in the past. There are some times when it does no good, and can do lots of harm, to bring those things up. And yet, we do get curious about our family history…

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  3. Visiting relatives in the Lofoten Islands north of the Arctic Circle in Norway in 2012 a distant cousin and local historian asked me if I knew my grandfather, who left the Islands in 1902 for North America, had loved a girl in Norway. I was stunned. There was no family history on a love in Lofoten. He said she tragically died and some thought it was one of the reasons he left the Islands. He went on to say my grandfather wrote a poem in her memory. I had never heard of him writing. He said the poem was set to music and sung at the local church and in the early 1960’s published in the local newspaper and here is a copy for you. I was so emotional I could hardly thank him.

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    1. Oh, Bill, what a story! I can only imagine how you must have felt getting that poem. And you learned about a part of your grandfather’s life that you’d never known before, too, which makes it all the more meaningful. It was an important part of his life, brought home to you, and that’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing the story.

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  4. A couple of interesting books highlighted – the Burnet and the Queen. (Like I need more books!) I don’t think I’ve ever been that interested in exploring my family’s history and secrets. I’m content with the stories and information my parents and extended family (aunts and uncles) have shared willingly. There’s things about me that I’m happy not everyone knows.

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    1. I know what you mean, Col, about those personal history things. There are things about me, too, that I’m just as well pleased are not public. I do recommend the Burnet when you get to it; he tells a good story. And the Queen has an interesting look at family dynamics in it. It’s just a bit more psychological (at least in my opinion) than some of the others in that series.

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  5. Really enjoyed this collection of stories.
    I haven’t read the Christie’s novel, but I watched the show with David Suchet. One of the best episodes in the series, I should say.
    And I’l really intrigued by Murder at Honeychurch Hall and Death’s Golden Whisper.

    Say, MArgot! I think this is the first time I visit your blog since you revamped it 🙂

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    1. I’m so glad you stopped by! You are welcome here any time. 🙂 I think Five Little PIgs is really one of Christie’s better novels; I recommend it if you get the time. And I’m glad you enjoyed the TV adaptation; I’ve always liked Suchet as Poirot. Murder at Honeychurch Hall is a lighter novel, but it’s not ‘fluff;’ I hope you’ll enjoy it if you get to read it. Death’s Golden Whisper is a really interesting look at that part of Québec!

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